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Mentorship, research and volunteer experiences helped shape UAB graduate with medical school plans

  • April 21, 2021
A bilingual speaker of Japanese, Leanna Miku Crafford volunteered with a nonprofit health care clinic, did research in microbiology and led the Japanese Culture Club. She will graduate May 1 with honors magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.

Crafford.2Leanna Miku Crafford will graduate from the University of Alabama at Birmingham on May 1 with honors magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.

She is a member of the UAB Honors College’s Science and Technology Honors Program, and president of the UAB Japanese Culture Club. Crafford volunteered as an interpreter and until March worked as a COVID-19 tracer.

Though her plans to work abroad were interrupted by the pandemic, she anticipates a pre-med gap year full of productivity and exploration, she says. From there, she will continue her education and earn her medical degree. A bilingual speaker of Japanese, Crafford says she would like to be able to translate Japanese in a hospital one day for her own patients. 

“It’s hard to say what I will specialize in since my interests change with every new health care opportunity I learn about,” Crafford said. “Each new experience only makes me more optimistic about where my future will lead.”

A member of Alpha Epsilon Delta, the national pre-health honor society, she volunteers with AED for Spirit of St. Luke Ministry, a Birmingham-based, nonprofit clinic that provides health care services to underserved people in the Black Belt of Alabama.

“Volunteering with AED for Spirit of Luke was probably my most rewarding experience related to health care, and it helped me stay resolved with my decision,” she said. “Many of the doctors, volunteers and patients themselves were very compassionate and took the time to get to know each other and share their stories.” 

Crafford grew up in the suburbs west of Atlanta. She went to high school briefly in Connecticut, but realized she wanted to go back to the South and explore a new city when applying for college. When she got an interview for the Science and Technology Honors Program, she used the opportunity to fly to Birmingham and see the UAB campus.

“The familiar culture, great pre-med opportunities and sense of community are what brought me here to UAB,” she said.

She started off as a biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences, and luckily it was a good fit, she says.

“The sciences were always my strongest subject, and learning how it could be used in medicine to assist others made me love the subject even more,” Crafford said.

During her freshman year, she met Michael Gray, Ph.D., in the School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and joined his research lab. He has been a “great and supportive mentor” for her research, “Non-linear relationship between Escherichia coli biofilm cell survival and hypochlorous acid treatment.” She presented a research poster at the 2019 Molecular Genetics of Bacteria and Phages Meeting in Madison, Wisconsin, which was her first national conference.

She enjoyed her mentorship program in the SciTech Honors Program so much during her freshman year that she decided to become a mentor for the next three years.

“It has been amazing to meet so many ambitious and optimistic underclassmen and see how they grow over the years,” Crafford said. “Many of my own mentees went on to become mentors as well and supported others in their college transition.”

One of her favorite experiences was leading the Japanese Culture Club at UAB, which shows Japanese movies, offers tutoring for Japanese classes in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, and hosts social events in collaboration with other organizations on campus. Unique to most cultural organizations, she says many of the people in this organization are not of Japanese heritage and are drawn to this small community out of interest and curiosity.

“It has been very gratifying to not only share what I love about my Japanese heritage but also learn what people think is cool about my culture that I have taken for granted,” said Crafford, whose mother is Japanese.

As one of the first officers of the organization, she says she is excited to see where it will go in the future.

“I never expected my research, mentorship and leadership experiences to help me grow so much to where I am today, and I am truly grateful for these experiences through UAB,” Crafford said.